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Dodge Morgan: First American non-stop circumnavigator

Mar 29, 2011

Dodge Morgan, former Air Force fighter pilot, working journalist and successful entrepreneur, first dreamed of sailing solo non-stop around the world in the 1960s. Morgan spent a couple of years living aboard his 36-foot schooner, Coaster, and sailing from New England, through the Panama Canal to Alaska. He loved the experience, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the dream of his circumnavigation got some traction. Having achieved financial independence by selling his electronics company for a reported $35 million, at the age of 52 Morgan found himself ready to tackle his dream.

Up until Morgan’s effort in 1985, there had been no American sailors who had completed a non-stop single-handed passage around the world. There were American circumnavigators, the most famous of course Joshua Slocum, but his and other circumnavigations done by American sailors always had ports of call.

The last non-stop circumnavigation had been completed 15 years previously by British sailor Chay Blyth aboard the 59-foot British Steel. In that effort Blyth spent 292 days sailing from west to east against the prevailing winds. Morgan wasn’t looking to make a westerly passage. He did want to sail the 27,000-mile voyage in 180 days or less. That meant an average speed of 6.25 knots. Morgan writes that though setting a record was something he had thought about, the trip itself was the thing: “Although I do have the record-making time of 180 days as an objective, my fundamental purpose is most certainly not the record book.”

Morgan hired Ted Hood to design and build a 60-foot fiberglass cutter. Hood designed a boat for Morgan that was meant to be comfortable and safe-speed was not the first consideration. “Let’s make things redundant,” writes Morgan of a conversation he had with Hood and “boy, did we make things redundant.” Morgan wanted at least two of everything on American Promise so that if something broke, he wouldn’t have to fix it. The boat was outfitted with two complete sets of sails (14 in all); two rudders (one retractable); four electrical power sources (two diesel-powered generators, the engine, and a propeller-driven water generator as a final backup); 3,000 pounds of batteries to store that power; 60 circuit breakers; two autopilots; two satellite navigational systems; two machines to convert salt water into fresh water; two 60-gallon water storage tanks; 13 winches; five 200-gallon fuel tanks; five watertight bulkheads; and three bunks. American Promise, all 30 tons of her, was a high-tech, state-of-the-art, $1 million-plus sailboat. From the cockpit Morgan could furl or unfurl the sails with the touch of a button.

Morgan was only the 4th person to circumnavigate non-stop. He made the passage in a record-breaking 150 days one hour and six minutes, completing the voyage on April 11, 1986. His average speed was 7.13 knots.

After the record-breaking passage, Morgan donated American Promise to the U.S. Naval Academy. It was involved in an accident in 1991 in the Chesapeake and sunk as a result. The Navy refloated the vessel and it continues as a cadet sailing vessel. Morgan bought an island in Maine and lived there until his passing in September 2010. Of interest is the book he wrote called The Voyage of American Promise. It is a primer on all the information that Morgan collected about the circumnavigation. Very useful information for someone who might to want to follow in his shoes.

Morgan considered himself a competent celestial navigator and did noon sights three times weekly. He never mastered star sights and relied both on his noon LANs and the fixes he obtained from the pre-GPS satnav system.

Let us join Morgan aboard American Promise as he rounds Cape Horn on Feb. 28. His DR at the time of LAN is 56° 04’ S by 67° 45’ W. The Hs of a lower limb shot of the sun is 41° 41.6’.

A. Calculate the time in GMT of LAN.

B. Reduce Hs to Ho.

C. Calculate latitude.

Answers:

A. Time of LAN at DR in GMT 16:44.

B. Ho 41° 53.7’.

C. Latitude 56° 01.2’ S.

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